Managing the daily barrage of email can be a cumbersome task, particularly if you’re an early-stage entrepreneur and wearing all the ‘hats’ in your business. Requests, inquiries, orders, invitations and newsletters (solicited and unsolicited) clog up our inbox as if it’s the world’s to-do list that you have to complete.

Email is fundamentally a communication platform – not a productivity tool – and should be used as such. Email is great for sending and receiving communication, but there are much more efficient methods of managing ‘what to do today’.

If you’re struggling to keep on top of your inbox, here are six tips to help get it closer to Zero each day:

1. Start from the bottom

The first thing most people do when they open their inbox is look at the latest emails that have come in the top… you know the new and exciting unread ones!!! An important step in mastering your inbox is to learn to work from the bottom up. When you work from oldest to newest, you’ll never let it get completely out of control as you’re always dealing with the last email in your inbox. This is the most difficult discipline to master, yet the most important.

2. Triage and Batching

Once you’ve nailed the discipline of starting from the bottom, get in the habit of only visiting your emails at certain times of the day, and spending that time ‘triaging’ through your emails in batches. It’s also a good idea to switch off any new email notifications (including on your phone) so you’re not tempted to duck back into your inbox to read the latest email that just went ‘ping’. If you’re stuck in your inbox all day long waiting for the next email to pop in and distract you – you’ll never get out!

3. The 2-Minute Rule

After reading any email in your inbox, before you respond, first decide if it’s going to take more than 2 minutes to deal with. If so, move it out of your inbox to one of your Action Labels (see below). If you can deal with it in under 2 minutes… DEAL WITH IT NOW. Reply, Delegate or Archive/Delete.

4. Use Action Labels

Set up some labels in your email to use as ‘action’ labels and use these to ‘move’ emails out of your inbox into your Action Labels when an email requires an action or you can’t deal with it right away. These help you ‘triage’ your inbox down to Zero each day.

I recommend starting with the following action labels:

Call – For emails requiring a phone call.
Reply – For anything that will take longer than 2 minutes to deal with.
Delegate – For anything you need to delegate to a team member.

Once you’ve completed your triage of your main inbox, you can go back and address those emails you’ve moved into your Action Label folders and deal with them there. Once you’ve dealt with them, they can be moved to your archive.

5. Use automated follow-ups

A common trap with email is to leave emails requiring follow-up in your ‘inbox’ so you remember to follow up with that person. Gmail has some great add-ons available written by third party developers that can help you set email reminders automatically when composing an email. We recommend which gives you comprehensive reminder features as well as the ability to track whether or not someone has opened your email (and from where).

– Need to remember to follow up on that proposal you’re sending?
– Want to be reminded when someone doesn’t get back to you on time?

Yesware will keep you super on top of things!

6. Filter marketing messages to a ‘News’ folder

One super sneaky trick I like to do is set up a rule to automatically filter any emails with the words ‘unsubscribe’ to a label called ‘News’. This keeps most of the marketing messages out of my inbox and I can browse my ‘News’ folder once or twice a day to check in on anything I’d like to read when I’ve got the time for leisure reading.

Managing your email requires daily discipline, yet with these tips you’ll be on your way to a saner and cleaner inbox.

Do you have any questions about getting to Inbox Zero? Ask Peter in the comments!